As the largest price-fixing case in U.S. history winds down, one thing is clear: Auto suppliers that conspired with competitors to rig their bids are paying a hefty price.
In addition to more than $2.9 billion in fines paid as part of criminal cases, suppliers large and small have so far agreed to civil settlements of class-action lawsuits totaling more than $1.34 billion.
For the most part, the money has come directly from suppliers' coffers, plaintiffs' lawyers say. The funds will begin being distributed this year to consumers and dealers in 29 states, and the District of Columbia, that allow for recovery of damages under class actions by indirect purchasers.
The class-action cases—which have been lumped together in multidistrict litigation overseen by Judge Marianne Battani in U.S. District Court in Detroit—ultimately will result in more than $300 million distributed to dealers and $1.04 billion distributed to consumers.
And more money is likely to be put into the funds. According to plaintiffs' attorneys, more than 50 class actions involving suppliers have yet to be settled or resolved in other ways.
The $4.25 billion in fines and settlements represents just a small piece of automotive suppliers' annual revenues.
But coupled with the prison sentences agreed to by dozens of supplier executives in plea agreements reached over the scandal's eight-year run, the investigation has rocked suppliers' business.
The U.S. Department of Justice's investigation went public in 2010, when the FBI raided the offices of Yazaki North America Inc., Denso International America Inc. and Tokai Rika Group North America. Japanese suppliers and their U.S. subsidiaries were the initial focus of U.S. authorities, but parallel investigations were launched in Europe and Asia.
In September 2011, Furukawa Electric Co. of Japan became the first supplier to plead guilty in the criminal case. Three of its executives in the U.S. served jail time, and the company agreed to pay a $200 million fine.
Across the investigation, 49 companies were charged, resulting in 45 plea agreements. Two other companies were acquitted, and charges against two more remain outstanding, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division said.
Sixty-six individuals were charged, resulting so far in 32 plea agreements. Thirty-four others are still under indictment. Those who pleaded received a combined 39.5 years behind bars, the spokeswoman said.
After the criminal cases, civil attorneys moved in. As the primary purchasers of the parts—and therefore the primary victims auto makers sought their own redress. But 29 states and the District of Columbia have laws that allow secondary purchasers of goods to seek compensation after such antitrust activity.
Scores of civil lawsuits seeking compensation for either consumers or dealers were filed nationwide and were consolidated in February 2012 under the jurisdiction of Battani.
It's unclear how many consumer claims will share in the $1.04 billion available in that fund or what the eventual payouts will be. Lead attorneys, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment.
Still, because of restrictions in 21 states on secondary buyers participating in class-action awards, only about 182 million, or 56 percent, of the nation's estimated 328 million residents would even be eligible to file a claim.
The window for filing a consumer claim opened in December 2016 and remains open through the website autopartsclass.com.
Two important court dates in the consumer case are planned for this summer. On July 13, the court will hear from consumers who wish to exclude themselves from the class actions or file objections to the $432.9 million in settlements reached in the third round. On Aug. 1, those objecting to the Round 3 settlements can offer testimony before Battani, clearing the way for final adjudication of those funds.
Dealers' litigation has moved more quickly. A first round of 1,966 settlement checks totaling $27.7 million were distributed April 9 to dealers who had filed a claim.
Jonathan Cuneo, one of three lead attorneys for dealer plaintiffs, said a second round of dealer settlement checks, representing at least double that amount, is expected to be distributed in the third quarter.